CPO Rating Criteria

Review Scoring and Ratings

The following rating criteria was updated on 4/26/2023. Reviews with a published, or updated, date prior to this date may not have a star rating that reflects the following:

Star Ratings

All merchant services providers that we review start with a five star rating. As we conduct our research we remove stars for the following reasons:

Star Deductions

  • One star deduction for charging any junk fees.
    • What kind of fees are junk fees? We consider any monthly or annual fee that isn't attached to an additional value added, optional service to be a junk fee. For example, statement fees, PCI compliance fees, and other obscurely labeled “service fees.”
  • One star deduction if the providers rates and fees are not clearly listed on its website.
    • Why? Providers that do not list their pricing are hoping that you don't know rates and fees work for credit card processing, and that you don't know how to negotiate them to a fair price. We believe that pricing from a provider should be the same for every business regardless of the owner's knowledge of how rates and fees work. Please keep in mind that this deduction does not apply to providers that offer discounts for higher processing volumes so long as it is published on its website. This deduction also does not apply to providers who provider services to “high-risk” industries due to the many variables that can affect the underlying cost to those providers.
  • One star deduction for providers that have moderate complaints. Providers that are receiving a moderate amount of complaints regarding consistent issues, such as poor customer support and billing issues.
  • Multiple star deductions for severe issues. Providers causing severe problems to their clients are likely to be engaging in the previous points as well as charging unjust cancellation fees, enforcing non-cancellable lease agreements, engaging in deceptive marketing and sales tactics, imposing predatory pricing or contracts, or engaging in highly unethical or illegal activities.
  • We may also remove stars for how providers engage and communicate with this website and its owners. This may include unprofessional communications, threats of any kind, or frivolous legal actions.

Can Processors Buy Good Ratings?

Absolutely not. We pride ourselves on being one of the only and truly unbiased resources for researching card processing services on the Internet. Unlike most other merchant account review websites, we do not sell ratings, period. This website is not owned or controlled by any processing company. If a well-rated provider deserves to have its rating lowered due to new information, increased complaints, or deteriorating service, its rating will be lowered without hesitation. Do not let poorly rated processors fool you into thinking that the only reason they have a poor rating in my review is because they did not pay us for a good rating. It is a lie and you should avoid any company that will lie to you. If you have received emails from a processor stating that CardPaymentOptions.com sells ratings, please contact us so we can take appropriate action.

Rating and Review Philosophy

It's important to understand that we are an advocate for small business owners. We view the current credit card processing industry as generally unfavorable to small businesses. For many business owners, accepting card payments has become a necessary evil. Merchant account providers that operate in ways that are typical of the industry are considered as average in our view. Providers that score above a 3-star rating are those that rise above the status quo.

Our reviews primarily measure business owner satisfaction and merchant account provider policies regarding, fees, sales tactics, customer support, and cancellation of service.  We focus on these areas because they often have the greatest impact on a business owner's overall experience with a merchant account provider. Due to the complex nature of the credit card processing industry, we understand that most providers will have a few complaints even if they operate ethically and have business-friendly policies. For this reason, we are most interested in the context of user complaints and uncovering any resounding themes in the type of complaints. Our goal is to help business owners determine the relative safety of entering into business with a particular merchant account provider.

It is our belief that most business owners do not file public complaints when they have a legitimate issue with a merchant account provider; therefore, if one business owner takes the time to report a problem, there are probably others who have had the same issue. The more complaints that exist about a particular issue, the more likely that others are having the same problem. We see this likelihood as an exponential curve wherein as public complaints increase, the factor of others silently experiencing the same problems increases at an ever greater rate. For example, it is safe to assume that if there is only one complaint filed about a particular issue then it may just be an isolated incident. If there are 10 complaints about the same issue, we believe that it is safe to assume that at least 100 other business owners have had the same problem; however, if there are 100 complaints about an issue, we feel that is it safe assume the possibility that 1,000 or more other merchants have silently experienced the same problem. This philosophy correlates to the likelihood that a new customer of a merchant account provider would experience the same problems that current and past customers have reported. Our calculations are only theoretical but we believe the philosophy to be logically sound.

Review Sections

Below are the descriptions of each review section.

Sales Tactics & Marketing Strategy

We look closely at how merchant account provider markets its services because many complaints can be traced back to a provider's sales tactics and marketing strategy. High ratings are earned by companies that utilize well trained, W-2 employed sales forces that have transparent sales processes that include full fee and contract provision disclosure prior to setting up accounts.  Low ratings are earned by companies that use misleading sales tactics, deceptive advertising and rate quotes, and rely too heavily on recruiting poorly trained independent sales agents who are intentionally focused on setting up expensive accounts in exchange for high commissions; a type of provider commonly know within the industry as an “agent hiring mill.”

Fees, Costs & Contract Terms

Since most merchant account providers set their own contract terms and pricing, high ratings are earned by providers that offer competitive rates and fees, and short-term service agreements. The highest ratings are reserved for providers that market month-to-month agreements as a standard policy, have no fees or arbitrary time constraints for cancelling service, and actively market Interchange-plus rate pricing. Low ratings are earned by processors that intentionally bury important details in fine print, impose high rates and fees, require long-term service agreements and/or equipment leases, penalize service cancellation with early termination fees, and/or have automatically renewing contracts.

Complaints & Service

Complaint and service quality information is largely gathered and analyzed by researching customer reviews on various websites and forums. We determine a rating based upon the estimated size of the merchant account provider, its time in business, number complaints filed, and the content of the reviews. We also look for themes in the type of reviews to determine if a provider is suffering or excelling in any particular area. High ratings are reserved for providers that have few to no complaints or a high volume legitimate and verifiable praise. Low ratings are assigned to providers that have numerous complaints, reports indicating unfavorable or unethical business practices, or reports of poor customer services and dispute resolution experiences.

Better Business Bureau Rating

We take into account a company's BBB rating only to help establish a level of credibility, or lack thereof, in a merchant account provider. In our opinion (which is shared by many), the BBB rating system is flawed when it comes to the credit card processing industry. For instance, there are numerous examples of providers receiving “A+” ratings despite having hundreds of complaints filed. The BBB often justifies these high ratings by stating that a company has promised to make good faith efforts to resolve complaints. We do not agree with this policy and believe that high ratings should be reserved for companies that prevent complaints instead of react to them. Evidence has also surfaced that BBB ratings have been manipulated by paying the BBB's enrollment fees (ABC Investigative Report of the BBB).  Although the BBB claims that it has eliminated its “pay to play” policy, we regularly see “accredited” providers with inflated grades.

The BBB does not look outside of its own system and primarily scores providers based upon how many internal complaints have been filed versus how many have been resolved.  Processors often score an “A+” with the BBB even though they have numerous complaints and dismal ratings elsewhere. It is our belief that when a provider has a high volume of BBB complaints, but a high rating, merchants were unable to get their problems resolved directly with the company itself and so sought outside assistance. This is often an indication that a provider has a poor dispute resolution process and only acts when its BBB rating is at stake. Therefore, a high BBB rating should not be considered as definitive indicator of a high quality merchant account provider. Conversely, however, a low BBB rating is usually a clear signal indicating that a provider has a dysfunctional customer service program.

To combat the problem of artificially inflated BBB ratings, we assign an “adjusted BBB rating” based on how the section would score under our own criteria. We take into account factors such as complaint volume, type of complaints, resolution ratio, estimated market share, company age, and BBB profile age. The adjusted rating is used in the “Overall Rating” calculation.